George Sims was one of those men with one of those names: ordinary, middling, probably from London or the Home Counties. Lower middle class, in some sort of service industry or perhaps a small businessman. Indeed this Sims, the one in question, was most of those things. For most of his life he was an antiquarian bookseller, first in London, then operating from a cottage in Berkshire. From 1964 on he wrote about a dozen crime thrillers about other middling men, often set in the rarefied world of antiquarian book dealing. This is one.
Leo is the book dealer in question. Leo is middleaged as well as middling, yet a beautiful young woman seduces him. While they are making love an armed man breaks in and kills the girl. Leo suffers a heart attack. Everyone assumes Leo killed the girl, then suffered his attack. But not family friend Ed Buchanan, back from a working holiday in Greece, who investigates. The revelation of the killer's identity is clever and appropriate - but it is the way Sims gets to the revelation that is the surprise of the book.
Sims' prose lacks punch, though his dialogue works well. His descriptive sentences are too long for comfort. His characterisation, albeit he is proud of using ordinary men and women as heroes and villains, is well above average. I especially enjoyed the hired thug in a bad wig. It is the detail that holds the attention. Sims seems well acquainted with all the locations used here. Semi-genteel London in the Seventies is no surprise, but Bodmin Moor and Amsterdam? Likewise, the detail of the car Buchanan borrows to travel to Bodmin - a 1970 De Tomaso Mangusta (it's a supercar not unlike a De Lorean but much classier). Totally the wrong car for the terrain, which gets him into incidental trouble that has nothing to do with the plot.
The plot itself unrolls through a series of narratives. Buchanan does not appear until about a third of the way through. When I realised what the underlying plot was I got very excited because it's one I've been working with for years - indeed, I was working on it yesterday afternoon, immediately before I got to the relevant revelation in The End of the Web.
Best bit for me, structure-wise, was Chapter Two, which consists of two facsimile information sheets, one for Leo, the other for his mate Chard. Who made them? Why? The answer lies therein - but that's telling you nothing.
This fascinating discovery comes via the new series of classic thrillers reissued by the British Library. Another of Sims' novels - The Last Best Friend - is also in the series, so I'm definitely having that the next time I visit. The introduction is by Martin Edwards, who also oversaw the Library's hugely successful classic whodunit reissues and whose cracking website has long been featured on the righthand panel of this blog. Check him out. And check out the magnificent cover photo by Paul Almasy,